Does Romans 8:19-22 Refer to the Cursed Creation?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

The cursed creation?

Almost universal among young earth creationists is the idea that the original creation was cursed by God, who changed it as a result of the fall of man. Romans 8 is cited as New Testament evidence in favor of this interpretation. However, an examination of Romans 8 reveals that this figurative interpretation neither fits the overall context of the chapter, nor the specific attributes said to refer to the creation. In addition, this interpretation requires that it contradicts other biblical passages about the creation.

Rich Deem

The claim has been made that the Romans 8:19-23 passage refers to the "cursed creation" mentioned in Genesis 3:17. However, if one looks into the passages more deeply, there is another interpretation, which makes more sense in terms of the context of the chapter. Is the context of Romans 8 consistent with a figurative passage about the non-rational creation?

Romans 8: the cursed creation?


Here are the verses from Romans 8 (NIV and NAS translations) that we are examining:

NIV NAS
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:19-25) For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:19-25)

"Creation" or "creature"?

Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding CreationThe question we are examining is the proper translation of the Greek word ktisis,1 which occurs 20 times in the New Testament and can be translated as either "creation" or "creature," depending upon the context. In Romans 1:20,2 ktisis obviously refers to the creation, since the verse describes the "world" (kosmos). In other verses, such as Mark 16:15,3 ktisis obviously refers to unredeemed creatures (humans), since Jesus would not have commanded us to proclaim the gospel to the rocks and trees. Ktisis, in other verses often refers to the Gentile or non-believing world:

Context of Romans 8

The book of Romans is the great book of Christian theology written to the Roman believers by Paul, the apostle. The eighth chapter discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. This chapter discusses the role of the Spirit in setting believers free from the law to serve God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It compares the actions of the one indwelt with the Spirit to one in whom the Spirit does not live. In looking at the overall context, one would have to ask why Paul would interject an allegorical passage about the creation in a chapter that is otherwise devoted solely to a discussion of the role of the Spirit in the life of believers versus unbelievers. Therefore, the overall context of the chapter suggests that Paul was not talking about the non-rational creation.

Specific examination of the passage

Verse 19:

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)

Is the non-rational creation really waiting for the revelation of God's children? Obviously, if this passage is really referring to the creation, this verse would have to be anthropomorphic rather than literal. If the passage really refers to creatures, it would be taken literally, since creatures can wait eagerly for God's revelation. 

John Gill notes that the Syriac version indicates in its notes that the word ktisis refers to the Gentiles.4

The King James version is translated:

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)

Verse 20:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it (Romans 8:20)

So let us examine the verses to see if the context is referring to "creatures" or "creation." The verse uses the Greek word is mataiotays (Strong's G3153),5 which is translated "frustration" or "futility". How is this word used in the rest of scripture?

Mataiotays is used only two other times in scripture, but in each instance it refers to unredeemed Gentiles or unbelievers. Adam Clarke's commentary explains that this term applies to the "inward vanity or emptiness of the mind" and, therefore, must refer to Gentile creatures and not to the creation.6 It is nowhere else used in scripture to refer to the non-rational creation.

The verse also indicates that the creation/creature was subjected to this futility not by choice, but by the the will of the one who subjected it. The context could apply to either creatures or the creation. The King James version indicates:

or the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected (Romans 8:20)

Verse 21:

in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)

One needs to ask if the non-rational creation or creatures will be set free from slavery to corruption. The Greek word phthora (Strong's G5356),7 is translated "corruption" in this verse. How is this word used in the rest of scripture?

Phthora appears 9 times in 8 verses. Likewise, in every instance, this word refers to human beings - mostly of the unredeemed variety. Peter uses the phrase "slaves of corruption" [doulos phthora], which is very similar to Paul's "slavery to corruption" [douleia phthora], in a context that obviously refers to unredeemed humans (2 Peter 2:19). The phrase "slavery to corruption" is significant, since the idea of being enslaved to sin or corruption is commonly used (at least 16 times in the New Testament) in reference to unredeemed humanity.8 Most notably, the idea is expressed in the eighth chapter of Romans - only four verses before the passage we are examining. The Bible never indicates that the creation is a slave to sin or corruption - only unredeemed humanity. In fact, non-spiritual creatures are incapable of sinning.

Will the creation be "set free" or destroyed?

In addition, the creation will not be delivered "into the freedom of the glory of the children of God?" The Bible says that the creation will be burned up and destroyed9 and that Jesus has gone to create an entirely new creation that will replace it.10 Scripture makes it clear that the creation will not be "set free" and, therefore, the word ktisis must refer to the "creature."

Verse 22:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:22)

Does verse 22 refer to the "whole creation" or "all the creatures"? Paul paints a picture of the suffering of the creation/creature compared to a woman giving birth. The problem with the analogy, if it is said to refer to the "creation", is that the creation is not going to give birth to anything. After the creation suffers and travails, it is going to be stillborn and destroyed. However, if the verse is referring to the "creatures", it would be referring to the suffering that results from the gospel being preached to the Gentiles. The Gentiles suffer as they struggle whether or not to accept the gospel and give up their old life. The analogy is completed when the Gentiles accept the gospel and are born into the new life. This concept is expressed by Paul elsewhere:

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature [ktisis]; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

John Gill (who was a young earth creationist) wrote an extensive commentary of the entire Bible. Regarding verse 22, John Gill's Commentary says:

It is best of all by "the creature" to understand the Gentile world. "The creature" here, and "the whole creation", Rom. 8:22, must be the same; now the phrase pasa ktisiz, "the whole creation", or "every creature", as it may be rendered, signifies the nations of the world, in distinction to the Jews; see Mar. 16:15; compared with Mat. 28:19 and answers to tsi - "the creatures", "the creatures"; by which name the Jews often in their writings call the Gentiles, to distinguish them from the Israelites.

Adam Clarke's commentary points out that the phrase "whole creation" in Romans 8:22 is often used elsewhere is scripture to represent the Gentile nations.12

Verse 23

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

Verse 23 represents the strongest argument that the passage is referring to the Gentiles and not the non-rational creation. The first part "Not only so" is a reference to the suffering of those mentioned in verse 22. The verse contrasts those mentioned in verse 22 to "we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit." This might seem to be some obscure, unknown reference, but its meaning is quite clear from the rest of scripture.

In Israel, the first fruits were to be the first and best of a crop given as a sacrifice to God. In reference to the New Testament, the first fruits of Christ were the Jews who first believed and followed Jesus. Jesus made it clear that He was sent only to witness to the Jews:

But He [Jesus] answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24)

Paul, in the book of Romans indicated likewise, that the gospel was preached first to the Jews, and later to the Gentiles:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

James, a Jew, indicated that "we" (i.e., the Jews) were a kind of first fruits:

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created. (James 1:18)

John, in his Revelation of Jesus Christ, stated that the 144,000 Jewish male witnesses13 were the first fruits to God:

These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. (Revelation 14:4)

All of these verses indicate that the first fruits of the Spirit in verse 23 are the Jewish believers who follow Jesus Christ. Paul, a Jewish Pharisee, included himself as the first fruits, as indicated by the phrase "we ourselves." It would make sense that Paul would use the phrase "first fruits" if he were comparing Jewish believers with those who were Gentiles (second fruits), said to be those suffering in verse 22. Since both verses are connected (by the phrase "not only so), it makes sense that they are both referring to suffering by spiritual beings. John Gill says:

"Rom 8:23 - And not only they, but ourselves also,.... Not only they Gentiles, but we Jews likewise:
which have the first fruits of the Spirit: meaning either the apostles, who were all Jews, and who most of them received the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit on the day of "Pentecost", which was the day of the first fruits, Num. 28:26; and to which there seems to be an allusion here; or else the Jewish converts in general: to the Jews the promises of the Messiah were made; to them he first came; the Gospel was first preached unto them, and some of them first believed in Christ;"

Therefore, it seems likely that Romans 8:22-23 are continuing the original discussion of the role of the spirit in the life of believers. The contrasts between the Jews and Gentiles is continued in these verses.

Bibles that translate ktisis as "creature" instead of "creation"

The following English translations translate Romans 8:19-23 as referring to the "creature" instead of the "creation":

Literal or figurative?

Ultimately, one must decide if Paul is anthropomorphizing the creation (i.e., the passage is figurative) or if he is really referring to creatures - the unredeemed Gentiles. The literal translation would be rendered "creature," since it fits the entire context of the words used to describe it. In order to claim that the passage refers to the creation, one must assume a figurative interpretation. It is ironic that young earth proponents opt for a figurative interpretation, whereas day-age proponents follow the literal interpretation.

Conclusion Top of page

The interpretation that Romans 8:19-23 is referring to Gentiles or unredeemed creatures as opposed to the non-rational creation is supported by the following facts:

Parameter Creature Non-rational Creation
overall context redeemed vs. unredeemed humans Does not apply (non-spiritual)
longing for revelation yes no (non-emotional)
waiting for sons of God yes no (does not wait)
subject to vanity yes no (not capable of vanity)
hopes yes no (no mind or emotions)
to be set free yes no (destroyed)
slavery to corruption yes no (incapable of sin)
groans yes no (non-emotional)
suffers the pains of childbirth  gives birth to new life to be destroyed
first or second fruits of the Spirit yes no (non-spiritual)
interpretation literal figurative

Even if one were to assume the figurative interpretation of this passage, it would be very difficult to figure out what Paul was trying to say, unless one were to accept that the passage contradicts other passages of scripture (since the creation will not be set free, but destroyed). Therefore, on the basis of context, and in light of other teachings of scripture, it makes more sense that Romans 8 refers to unredeemed creatures instead of the non-rational creation.


A Matter of Days by Hugh RossA Matter of Days by Hugh Ross

Dr. Ross looks the creation date controversy from a biblical, historical, and scientific perspective. Most of the book deals with what the Bible has to say about the days of creation. Ross concludes that biblical models of creation should be tested through the whole of scripture and the revelations of nature.

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth by Mark S. Whorton, Ph.D.

This book, written for Christians, examines creation paradigms on the basis of what scripture says. Many Christians assume that the young earth "perfect paradise" paradigm is based upon what the Bible says. In reality, the "perfect paradise" paradigm fails in its lack of biblical support and also in its underlying assumptions that it forces upon a "Christian" worldview. Under the "perfect paradise" paradigm, God is relegated to the position of a poor designer, whose plans for the perfect creation are ruined by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God is forced to come up with "plan B," in which He vindictively creates weeds, disease, carnivorous animals, and death to get back at humanity for their sin. Young earth creationists inadvertently buy into the atheistic worldview that suffering could not have been the original intent of God, stating that the earth was created "for our pleasure." However, the Bible says that God created carnivores, and that the death of animals and plants was part of God's original design for the earth.


References Top of page

  1. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    ktisis
    1. the act of founding, establishing, building etc.
      1. the act of creating, creation
      2. creation, i.e. thing created
        1. of individual things, beings, a creature, a creation
          1. anything created
          2. after a rabbinical usage (by which a man converted from idolatry to Judaism was called)
          3. the sum or aggregate of things created
      3. institution, ordinance
  2. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
  3. And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
  4. "God, in hope that the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption"; and so it is placed in some copies, and in the Syriac version: that is, "the Gentiles" earnestly wait and expect a larger number of converts among them, in hopes that ere long the whole Gentile world will be freed from the bondage of corruption, under which it at present groaned; by which is meant, the bondage they were in, not only to their sinful lusts, but to Satan the god of this world; and particularly to their idols, by which they corrupted themselves, and to which they were enslaved: they hope for a deliverance from hence, into the glorious liberty of the children of God; which designs either the liberty of grace the children of God have here; and which consists in a freedom from the dominion of sin and Satan, from the law and bondage of it, in the free use of Gospel ordinances, in liberty of access to God, and a freedom from the fear of death, and a glorious liberty it is; or the liberty of glory the saints shall enjoy in the other world, which will lies in a freedom from the prison of the flesh, from the body of sin and death, from all sorrows and afflictions, from all reproaches and persecutions, from the temptations of Satan, from doubts, fears, and unbelief, and in the full vision of God through Christ, and in a free conversation with angels and saints." John Gill's Commentary on the Bible
  5. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    Mataiotays
    1. what is devoid of truth and appropriateness
    2. perverseness, depravity 
    3. frailty, want of vigour
  6. "The second key is the word mataisthti, Rom. 8:20, which is not unfitly rendered vanity; but then this vanity is improperly applied to the vanishing, dying, changing state of the creation. For mataisthx, vanity, does not so much denote the vanishing condition of the outward state, as it does the inward vanity or emptiness of the mind. So the apostle, speaking of the Gentiles concerning whom he speaks here, tells us emataiwqhan, They became vain in their imaginations, Rom. 1:21; and again, The Gentiles walk en mataisthti, in the vanity of their mind, Eph. 4:17; so also, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, oti eisi mataioi, that they are vain, 1Cor. 3:20. To all which let me add this farther observation, that throughout this whole place the apostle seems to allude to the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt, and their deliverance from it; with a comparison made betwixt the Jewish and the Gentile Church. When God would deliver Israel from his bondage, he challenges him for his Son, and his first-born, Exo. 4:22. And in like manner the Gentiles earnestly expect and wait for such a kind of manifestation of the sons of God, within and among themselves. The Romans, to whom the apostle writes, knew well how many predictions and promises it had pleased God to publish by his prophets, concerning gathering together and adopting sons to himself among the Gentiles; the manifestation of which sons the whole Gentile world with a neck as it were stretched out, as the word apokaradokia implies, (apo, from, and kara, the head, and dokaw, to expect), doth now wait for." Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible.
  7. Thayer's Greek Definitions:
    Phthora
    1. corruption, destruction, perishing
      1. that which is subject to corruption, what is perishable
      2. in the Christian sense, eternal misery in hell
    2. in the NT, in an ethical sense, corruption, i.e. moral decay
  8. Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)
    knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; (Romans 6:6)
    Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
    But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, (Romans 6:17)
    I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. (Romans 6:19)
    For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. (Romans 6:20)
    For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:15)
    For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. (Romans 16:18)
    You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)
    Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)
    However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. (Galatians 4:8)
    This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. (Galatians 4:24)
    Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (Galatians 4:25)
    It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
    and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:15)
    promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:19)
  9. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:7)
    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
    "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
    But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)
    And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)
  10. "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)
  11. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19)
  12. "The first is the phrase, pasa h ctisix, which we render the whole creation, Rom. 8:22, and with which we meet twice elsewhere in the New Testament. Mar. 16:15 : Preach the Gospel, pash th ctisei, to every creature; and Col. 1:23 : The Gospel was preached, en pash th ctisei, to every creature. Now it is sufficiently apparent what is meant by pasa ctisix in both these places, viz. all nations, or the heathen world. For that which in St. Mark is, preach the Gospel to every creature, is, in St. Matthew, go and teach, pania ta eqnh, all nations. And this very phrase in this place lays claim to that very interpretation. And the Hebrew col habberioth, which answers to the Greek pasa h ctisix, every creature, is applied by the Jews to the Gentiles, and that by way of opposition to Israel." Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible.
  13. And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: (Revelation 7:4)
  14. 'Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD in your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:26)

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Last Modified April 20 2006

 

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